Don’t Let Your Family Be Destroyed Because of False Child Abuse Allegations
Child Abuse Allegations Trending in Family Court Cases
Since the family courts have re-opened following lengthy COVID-related shutdowns, family court attorneys locally and nationally have seen an upward trend in child abuse allegations being raised in private divorce and child custody cases. It’s too soon to say for sure why this pattern is emerging, but as someone who has practiced law for almost twenty-seven years, I am worried about the implications it will have on children and parent-child relationships long after these cases are concluded.
Procedural Complications When Allegations of Abuse Are Raised
In South Carolina, our family court system has its own special set of rules which govern how cases move through the system. Typically, once a case a filed, a Temporary Hearing is scheduled, which will lay out in a court order how the parties will conduct themselves and their affairs separately pending the time when they are eligible under the law to file to have their divorce finalized. When there are children involved, this Temporary Order will also dictate how the parents will share their parenting time and handle any child-related expenses, support payments, tax deductions, etc.
When a “private” family court has already been initiated, the above process is set into motion on the “private” docket of the local family court. However, if one parent makes child abuse allegations, those allegations often require the SC Department of Social Services to begin an immediate investigation into the matter. Under the statutes which govern the actions of DSS, they have 45 days to complete this investigation and determine any actions, if any, they will initiate against the alleged abuser(s). Even if a Temporary Hearing has been scheduled or the family court has already issued a Temporary Order in the private case involving the child, the DSS investigation brings almost everything to a grinding halt, pending the results of the investigation. It’s not hard to see why some parents will use this tactic to avoid a private action ruling they may not like.
Best Tips for Defending Against False Child Abuse Allegations
A recent article published by Dr. Alan D. Blotcky at PsychiatricTimes.com has some great advice. While Dr. Blotcky is not an attorney, his advice is written from the perspective of a forensic professional with many years of experience doing court evaluations of parents and children in these specific types of cases.
Tip #1 – Document, Document, Document
Depending on how the allegations are raised and when you might first learn of the allegations, it may be difficult to fully reconstruct what has happened, but to the extent humanly possible, use any and all documentation you might have in your possession to refute the allegations. For example, if the allegation states that the child regularly returns to the other parent and complains of mistreatment, but the child is always happy and jovial when in your care or is actively seeking to communicate with you during the other parent’s time, show evidence of this. Photos, text message chains of your daily conversations with the child, videos of activities you’ve done together are great examples that can illustrate the child is not scared to be in your presence.
Another example is when an allegation specifically lists a date, time, or place when something allegedly occurred. Check your calendars, journals, or records from that day or place to see if your recorded activities would even allow the alleged action to be possible. We’ve seen cases where allegations were raised alleging events happened when the other parent was not even in the same state as the child, or the time spent with the child on that day was always in the presence of other third-party witnesses.
Tip #2 – Hire an Attorney Experienced in Fighting These Types of Cases
Even if you already have hired a divorce attorney to represent you, when allegations of child abuse arise within your divorce case, have a serious conversation with your current attorney about their level of experience handling these special cases. These cases take special care and while hiring an attorney experienced in handling these cases will not guarantee you’ll win your case, if you stick with an attorney who has little or no experience in this field, you can almost be assured you’re helping to lose your case.
Tip #3 – Hire the Best Mental Health Expert Your Budget Will Allow
These cases are not won or lost based solely on the testimony of the parties, the social workers, or even the child’s testimony (if allowed to be called to the stand). These cases often come down to a battle of the experts who can sift through the allegations, study the results of psychological or other forensic testing of the parties and the child, and can educate the family court judge on why the allegations of abuse should be found credible or not. Not having an expert on your side could cost you the case. Family court attorneys typically have a list of experts (local, regional, and national) who have been specifically qualified in this area of mental health practice, so working with your attorney to decide which expert is the right fit for your case’s facts and budget is crucial.
Child abuse allegations are some of the most serious allegations that can be raised in the family court arena. They raise the stakes for everyone, and the typical family court judge will be hesitant to dismiss them outright due to the potential risk of harm or danger for the child or children. When you are facing false allegations being raised by the other party in your case as a litigation strategy to gain the upper hand in a child custody case, it’s no time to ignore what’s happening or hope the allegations just “go away.” It’s imperative to get your team in place and begin your defense as soon as you are notified about the allegations.
If you are facing false child abuse allegations, your case may quickly get out of control, costing you time away from your child and far more money than you originally anticipated. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like Ben Stevens today to discuss your case and the options you have to defend yourself and your right to parent your children. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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